What Does it Mean to be Green in Business? Five Small Business Sustainability Initiatives


Growing up, my family reused everything possible. We had a cleaned-out plastic container to collect food scraps in and used those scraps as compost in the garden. We held onto jam jars to use for food storage. If something could be used again, my family would find a way for it.

While sustainability might not have been at the front of our minds, avoiding waste definitely was. Many households have their own eco-friendly practices in place. But what about the workplace? Are there ways to go green at work? Read on to learn more about sustainability, and how it can work for your small business.

What Does Going Green Mean?

Sustainability has become a hot topic in recent years. The pressure — and the motivation — to go green is at an all-time high. So what does being green mean for small businesses? In the professional world, going green means taking steps to make your business more environmentally conscious. Here are some examples of how companies are going green:

  • Reducing plastic waste
  • Switching to more sustainable materials
  • Decreasing the company’s carbon footprint
  • Raising awareness and contributing to environmental causes

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Consumers looking to support more eco-friendly businesses should look for two things:

  1. Transparency: The business should be upfront on their website and other marketing materials regarding their initiatives and commitment to responsible sourcing and reducing waste and emissions.
  2. Certifications: If a business has been formally certified as green or climate neutral, that means they’ve been vetted and verified. We’ll dig more into certifications a bit later.

Benefits of Sustainability Initiatives in Business

Why are companies becoming more sustainable? Going green is more than just a way to help the environment. It also can work to your advantage, for both your finances and your small business’s brand.

Tax benefits for eco friendly small businesses.

Some notable incentives for businesses to go green are the potential tax benefits that come with it. Both federal and state governments offer select tax breaks for businesses making moves toward sustainability. These benefits will vary by state, but some common tax breaks include:

  • The 179D deduction for energy-efficient commercial spaces. Qualifying business owners may be able to deduct up to $1.88 per square foot when making certain energy-saving improvements to their building. This will primarily benefit the building owners, but tenants may be eligible as well.
  • A tax credit for electric vehicles purchased for business use. This credit applies to businesses that purchase qualifying electric cars.
  • Tax credits for adopting alternative energy. Businesses that install solar panels, fuel cells, or even wind turbines may be eligible for this credit.

We recommend that you consult with a tax professional or an accountant to understand the tax benefits that may be available for your business when filing your business taxes.

Grants for green businesses.

In addition to the potential tax benefits, deciding to make your small business sustainable may qualify you for grants to help fund your eco-friendly improvements. Available grants aim to fund all types of green business initiatives, such as switching to alternative energy to public health outreach. The Green Business Bureau (GBB) is a great resource for finding grants for your small business.

You also can become certified as green. This process includes having a scorecard to keep track of your green initiatives and offers a selection of additional improvements you can implement. Your company gets points for each eco-friendly business practice you complete. Once you’ve earned enough points and validated your business’s sustainability efforts, you may be eligible for certification. What makes a GBB certification so special? Well …

Benefits of eco-friendly products.

Eco-friendly business owners have the opportunity to use their sustainability status to market their products and services. A 2020 survey revealed that 78% of U.S. consumers value having a sustainable lifestyle, and 60% indicated that they’re willing to pay extra for a product with packaging that is more environmentally friendly. This tells us that sustainability is a consideration for many consumers.

Offering eco-friendly products and having a verified green certification will help make your small business stand out from the pack. Many consumers are eager to adopt sustainable practices, and being able to promote your business’s green initiatives will increase its appeal.

Environmentally Friendly Business Tips

How are companies becoming more sustainable? There are countless ways for companies to go green, both big and small. But for small business owners who may not be working with a lot of extra capital to invest in grand-scale sustainability efforts and corporate green initiatives, starting with a few simple changes may be the best option. For small business owners just getting started, here are some easy ways to go green.

1. Switch to environmentally friendly office supplies.

Running an office or operating any brick-and-mortar business often involves single-use stationery and supplies. If your small business can’t run without sticky notes or it flies through printer ink faster than you can restock it, try looking for alternatives that can offset the waste.

One easy way is to look for products made from recycled materials. You can find paper, pens, and even copier ink cartridges made from post-consumer materials at most office supply stores.

2. Get involved with green events and organizations.

Charities and volunteer opportunities geared toward promoting sustainability can be great ways to support a good cause while getting your community and employees involved. Be on the lookout for local nonprofits. If they’re hosting events, see how your small business can help.

Can’t find any events locally? Try hosting your own for your team. Company-sponsored highway cleanups or tree planting can be great “go green” activities for employees.

3. Adopt energy-efficient habits.

Electricity can get pricey when you’re running a small business. All the more reason to seek out energy-saving solutions. Consider swapping out your incandescent light bulbs for LED — they use less electricity and typically last longer.

Make sure you’re turning off unnecessary lights and appliances when you’re not in the room. Unplug electronics, chargers, and power strips when they’re not in use. You can even install motion sensors that automatically shut off the lights when no one is around.

If your location gets decent sun exposure during the day, try relying more on natural light when you can. These environmentally friendly business practices will not only support your efforts to go green — they’ll help your wallet as well.

4. Try going paperless.

… or at least use less paper. It’s true that not every small business can easily ditch paper products completely. But making small, incremental changes to reduce paper use can make a big impact.

Switch to a digital filing system, and keep documents secure using cloud storage. Switch to recycled paper, and commit to double-sided printing whenever possible. In addition to being more earth-friendly, it’s also more cost-effective.

5. Look for eco-friendly packaging alternatives.

Packaging. It’s typically single-use and won’t biodegrade over time. Customers usually toss it and never think about it again. So why not try finding a more sustainable solution? Ditch the styrofoam and opt for using recycled paper, cardboard, or even vegetable-based packing peanuts. If you ship products, avoid plastic shipping bags if possible, and use paper sleeves instead.

You also can get creative with it! Scrap fabric is a great option for packaging hand-made items. Use it to make decorative bags for artisan goods like soaps and candles. You can even make bows and ribbons with it. The unique variety of colors and patterns will help make your products stand out.

Making Efficient Choices for Your Business Insurance

Running an efficient small business doesn’t end with going eco-friendly. Finding the right business insurance could help you save time, money, and hassle. Simply Business® makes it easy. We work with small business owners every day to help them to:

  • Reduce waste: Find the coverage they need, without the excess.
  • Go “green”: Insurance options from leading carriers that won’t break the bank.
  • Be sustainable: Save time and resources by getting a quote online in minutes.

We offer quotes for general liability, workers’ comp, cyber, and more. Just tell us a little about your small business, and we’ll shop options from trusted insurance providers to help you find the coverage you need.

The future is uncertain. Having business insurance — just like going green — can help you prepare for the uncertainty.

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Companies Known for Sustainability

Companies that are environmentally friendly — or trying to be — understand that the key to long-lasting success is keeping a step ahead of competitors. Choosing to adopt sustainable business practices takes time, effort, and funds. Many companies are willing to make the commitment because they believe it will benefit their bottom line — as well as the environment — down the road.

Many big corporations are major contributors to climate change. But some major businesses are breaking away from the pack by going green. Here are some green business examples:

  • Patagonia: This mainstay in outdoor clothing and gear has a long-standing reputation for environmentally conscious business practices. They often use recycled or organic materials, and a percentage of their sales goes to conservation efforts.
  • Dr. Bronner’s: This brand is known for more than just its soaps. Dr. Bronner’s is also known for its fair trade ingredients, post-consumer packaging materials, and a commitment to being a force for good.
  • Allbirds: Comfortable and stylish sneakers may be what they’re known for, but this brand has made sustainability a priority. The company is carbon neutral and even invests in carbon offset efforts.

Going green isn’t just for big companies. These are some eco-friendly small businesses:

  • Driftaway Coffee: They’re a sustainable coffee subscription service using compostable packaging and are committed to fair trade labor.
  • Urban Native Era: This indigenous-owned fashion brand uses recycled paper, water-based ink, and other sustainable materials that reduce plastic waste in their shipping process.
  • Unhidden: While this brand is primarily dedicated to creating stylish and functional fashion designed for individuals with disabilities, it’s also committed to becoming sustainable by using deadstock fabric and left-over textiles.

One Step at a Time

No single person can reverse the impact of climate change. But your efforts aren’t in vain.

Individual actions may feel like a drop in the bucket — but enough drops will eventually lead to a full bucket. Every eco-conscious decision you make is a step in the right direction. When one business goes green, there’s a good chance that others will follow suit later. So get ahead of the curve! You can start to reap the benefits of going green by implementing sustainable business practices now. Your small business can have a big impact.

Kristin Vegh

After several years of working in insurance while also freelance writing, I’ve finally found where the two interests intersect. I’m a writer with Simply Business with an insurance processing background and a love of research.

Kristin writes on a number of topics such as small business trends, license reciprocity, and BOP insurance.